Initial Effort Shows Commitment

The best way to encourage collaboration and garner assistance -- whether to develop a WikiPage, evolve an OpenSource project, obtain funding or successfully complete a work task -- is to demonstrate initial effort. In other words, start the ball rolling with enough force to clearly demonstrate that you believe in and are committed to making the effort succeed. The combined "fire power" of the project or work's inherent value, plus your demonstrated willingness to work hard, will improve its chances of gathering support.

This really assumes that the initial effort produces tangible results which demonstrate the commitment in a way that other people can clearly see, understand and appreciate. If the initial effort entails years of work that other people simply don't appreciate, it "shows" nothing and will typically be dismissed as an example of HalfBakedAttemptsLeadNowhere.

If the initial effort cannot produce at least some tangible result or show the way forward with such clarity as to be appreciated by peers, then maybe the project should be refactored in order to solve the BootStrap problem. There's always the alternative that the originator should put the years of work first. In other words, there's no RoyalRoadToCollaboration?.

You misunderstand. It's actually quite easy to put years of work into a project and end up with lots of results that are simply not communicable to anyone else. It's easy to HAVE commitment and be utterly unable to "show" it.

Then put more years of work until you get something you can show. Or refactor the project. The concept of "lots of results that are not comunicable to anyone else" has a distinct bad smell to it.

"Lots of results that are simply not communicable to anyone else" must be vanishingly rare. Are you really the only person working in your field? Is it so complex and difficult that no one can understand it? If you think there aren't people who can appreciate your results, or that you can't communicate them, then you either need to work on your communication skills, you don't really have results, or you're talking to the wrong people.

I'm the only person in my field that I know, and one of only a few that I know of. And yet, this has nothing to do with the problem of communication for highly creative people.

If you're a plodder or a traditionalist, nothing you do is likely to be out of the mainstream. Nothing you do will be incomprehensible to the people around you. In all likelihood, it will be trivially comprehensible to everyone around you.

If you're a highly creative person, nothing you do is likely to be in the mainstream. Everything you do will be barely comprehensible to the people around you. At great cost, you may bring a very small number of highly motivated, highly open-minded and even like-minded people up to speed on parts of your project. Even with these like-minded people, the cost is so great that it eats up almost any benefit of communication.

And the kicker is that the more you work on your project, the more your results diverge from the mainstream, and the more incomprehensible they become to the average person.

This has nothing to do with lack of communication skills, nothing to do with talking to the wrong people, and certainly nothing to do with not "really" having results. Although I'm certain you'll define "real results" as ones that you can communicate to others, yielding a trivial tautology. As for being vanishingly rare, well that's a bit of an exaggeration. Highly creative people are very rare, but not vanishingly so.

Such highly individualistic artistic, creative, or out-of-band efforts are by their nature (and by your claims) not something for which collaboration is usually appropriate. I agree that highly creative people are rare, and I agree that their rarity is not vanishingly so. That is not how I used "vanishingly rare." I used "vanishingly rare" in reference to the pairing of "lots of results" and "not communicable." Even if your results consist entirely of obscure formulae in flimsy notebooks, they are communicable to the two or three other mathematicians in the world who can understand your work if collaboration is what you seek. Obviously, if you are the only person in the world who can understand your work, then there isn't anyone who can collaborate with you. If you don't want collaboration, then in terms of your project it's not relevant whether InitialEffortShowsCommitment or not. Perhaps what you actually seek is acceptance, or maybe what you want is someone to bring you tea. But these are not collaboration.

If collaboration is what you want, then effective collaboration -- regardless of topic obscurity or creative individuality -- will demand that InitialEffortShowsCommitment, otherwise there is unlikely to be any collaboration. As an example, I for one am not prepared to commit my effort (or funding, or any other collaborative contribution) to someone else's apparent lack of effort.

Now you're assuming that collaboration is homogeneous. That what each person has to contribute to a project is similar in kind to what every other person brings to a project. So for example, the graphic artist brings the same thing to a game as the writer and the programmer. Oh wait, no they don't.

Assume for the moment that we've got a highly creative writer who's written an interactive world using something like the Erasmatron. Is a graphic artist or programmer likely to understand it? Or better yet, assume for the moment that we've got a highly creative writer who's come up with a new paradigm that diverges from the Erasmatron as much as the Erasmatron diverges from a novel. Jolly good luck trying to get anyone else to understand it, especially the people you need to collaborate with, especially when they ask you for your "results"!

You've got a point. I have no answer to this, yet I am still compelled -- mainly by lack of time more than anything -- to categorise potential collaborative efforts into "worthy" and "non-worthy" on the basis of InitialEffortShowsCommitment, in order to weed out the plodders. Do you have a better way? If you're a potential collaborator, how do I know you're not merely going to waste my time?

I don't have a better way, and I actually agree that InitialEffortShowsCommitment is a good heuristic. It's just not an ironclad rule and you have to be aware of its limits, and its limit is this: It doesn't apply to people you consider crazy, or know are highly creative, even if they don't have anything to show for it.

See also HalfBakedAttemptsLeadNowhere, WikiModes


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